This is for the woman who gave me the stink eye when she overheard me say to my husband, “This is ridiculous.”
What’s ridiculous? The suggestion that we as a church group go out about the town – to bars, restaurants, wherever – and pray, in honor of National Day of Prayer.
Though if I’m being completely honest here, part of me wanted to be overheard. This is one instance of a cultural Christian phenomenon that is normal and/or celebrated among many American Christians, and it’s one instance that makes me turn up my nose and think I’m so much more mature than these people. Yes, more mature than these people who have been Christians all their lives, while my faith is transitioning from diapers to pull-ups. I know it’s not a very Christ-like way to think, and I’m calling myself out on it.
Yet part of me wanted to be overheard because I’d wager that just about no one in our young adult small group can comprehend what an event like this is like for people on the outside of the Christian faith. They probably can’t see beyond their good intentions – and I know they had good intentions – how an event like this might be damaging to the witness they are hoping to demonstrate.
In many ways, I’m still an outsider. Events like National Day of Prayer force me to once again come to terms with an uncomfortable fact about myself:
Even after all these years, I am still too Jewish to fit in in church, yet too Christian to feel at home among other Jews.
When I hear “Let’s go around town to pray in honor of National Day of Prayer!” I interpret that as Let’s show off our Christian privilege by making everyone else feel awkward.
When I hear “We need to pray to bring this country back to God,” I hear We need to pray to make America a theocracy so people like you, and your family, don’t feel welcomed here.
Even the title itself – National Day of Prayer – implies specific Christian prayer. It tells me If you’re not praying to Jesus, your prayers don’t count.
I am still conditioned to interpret every Christian idea through Jewish lenses. The suggestion of gathering for public prayer confirmed this, because I’m still too conscious of what it’s like to be an outsider. And I cannot do anything that will reinforce that feeling for anyone outside my ‘circle’ without feeling like a hypocrite.
Because in my tradition, prayer is a private, personal thing – unless it’s part of a group chant in synagogue.
Because in my tradition, we’re used to having to fend off missionaries who learn from their pastors how best to “reach” us, without ever getting to know us and what we believe about the Bible. And events like this often include prayers for national conversion.
Because even today, the phrase “my tradition” and the pronoun “us” in Judaism still make sense. I’m not exactly part of an “us” to many Jewish communities anymore, but let’s face it; I’m not part of the “us” in many Christian communities, either.
My desire to be inclusive makes me “liberal” (a dirty word in many churches). My apprehension to do anything outside of my normal behavior to draw attention to my faith makes me “ashamed” of the gospel.
I could have found more productive ways to explain myself instead of flippantly, indiscreetly expressing my negative opinion. And even if that woman never reads this, I needed to write it for myself, and for anyone else who might have overheard and thought What kind of Christian is anti-prayer?
I need to make it known that I’m absolutely not anti prayer. I am anti peer-pressure-to-do-something-that-feels-like-public-nudity because I come from a long tradition in which prayer is intensely personal when not done in a house of worship. Add on to that the pressures that come with being an introvert living in a faith culture that is catered to extroverted personalities.
When I’m pressured to make my faith more public than what is natural, my instinct will always be to hide. When I’m pressured to perform in a way that is contradictory to my nature, my gut reaction will be I CAN’T EVEN WITH THESE PEOPLE.
So that, in a nutshell, is why I did not participate in the National Day of Prayer – at least, not publicly. And this is my impassioned plea to anyone tempted to use the No True Scotsman fallacy against me because my faith in practice looks different from theirs: please do not conflict faith culture with faith itself. It is not hypocritical to love one and despise the other.
In fact, Jesus had some words to say about public versus private prayer:
When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:6.
If you can relate to this post, be sure to check out Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, now available for pre-order.